The Cavedogs successful in the Boston club sceneThe Cavedogs
Performing with Cross Comedy
and God's Fool.
The Paradise Rock Club.
By Chris Roberge
Ooh ... the hits!" said Cavedogs guitarist Todd Spahr with more than a hint of sarcasm after bass player Brian Stevens and drummer Mark Rivers suggested following up a strong rendition of "Baba Ghanooj" with the hard-hitting "Tayter Country," one of the few Cavedogs songs that gets any noticeable airplay.
Spahr's sense of humor was a welcome part of the terrific show that The Cavedogs put on last Tuesday night at their record release party for the new Capitol release, Soul Martini, but the joke's success is somewhat disturbing. The Cavedogs, a favorite of the Boston club scene, are a very talented band who have recorded two great albums and give very energetic live shows, but who have received only a fraction of the popularity that they deserve. Tuesday's concert, with God's Fool providing a decent opening and Cross Comedy performing during the Cavedogs' set, showcased all of the band's strengths quite well and hopefully suggests a future with many more hits.
The show began with a member of the Cross Comedy team, who performed skits during the first half of the show, introducing the band as role models for bands who refuse to sell out, and as a result don't sell. The Cavedogs have recently switched labels from Enigma to Capitol Records, causing some concern about whether or not their distinct musical personality would survive the transition to a bigger company. Based on the new album and the Paradise show, though, little has changed with the band except for Steven's new look, which seems modeled after Shaggy of Scooby Doo fame. (Spahr was overheard at Newbury Comics earlier that day explaining that Stevens had dropped too much acid since the last album, Joyrides For Shut-ins.)
Soul Martini is a strong and varied offering with all of the hooks and sonic punches of their 1990 debut. Once again, all three members share the responsibilities of writing and singing, and like the members' distinct and very different voices, the twelve new songs contrast each other somewhat in style and mood but form a harmonious whole. The new album's pleasures are buried a bit deeper than on Joyrides, which was basically a compilation of singles, but are well worth exploring.
The majority of Tuesday's show was devoted to Soul Martini -- a program selection obviously intended to push sales of the new album, but which may have alienated the audience with unfamiliar music that had been available to the public for less than one day. Still, one of The Cavedogs' greatest merits is that their songs are for the most part instantly engaging. At some points the band sounded less than perfectly comfortable with the newer material, particularly in slower songs, such as "You're Put Away (Folderol)." "Folderol," possibly the strongest track on Soul Martini, is a haunting song sung by Stevens that obsesses about lost opportunities and images that conceal their true meanings. Live, The Cavedogs were more impressive with Martini's louder fare. "Love Grenade," the aggressive opener for the album, and "Boy in a Plastic Bubble," the first single released, were both enthusiastically played as Spahr hopped back and forth along the stage with more energy than seemed humanly possible. In these two songs, as well as "Tarzan and His Arrowheads" and "Sonny Day," the trio of Spahr, Stevens, and Rivers gave further proof that they can put out a stronger, richer, and more powerful sound than many larger bands. Despite strong presentations of the new material, though, the biggest audience-pleaser of the first half was definitely "Bed of Nails," one of the more popular Joyrides songs.
After exhausting most of Soul Martini, The Cavedogs settled into a string of songs from Joyrides For Shut-Ins. The encore began with the fantastic "Baba Ghanooj," The Cavedogs' best song to date, and continued with the band tearing into "Tayter Country," their most popular. The strongest point of this second half was an amazing version of "Leave Me Alone," another Joyride selection, highlighted by Rivers' powerful drumming.
Perhaps the lukewarm reception that The Cavedogs receive from the masses is due to their music's resistance to categorization. Most songs are catchy enough to be termed pop, rough enough to be called alternative, and guitar-driven enough to be labeled garage rock. Fortunately for those who know and love the band's music, such classifications are meaningless to The Cavedogs. Instead, Spahr says about the band, "We place a lot of importance on songwriting, arrangements, and hair." If Soul Martini and the related tour a few months away manage to find their audience, then finally more people can place importance on The Cavedogs themselves.